Citizens United changes the face of politics

By Kerry Drake
— September 2, 2014

The biggest names in the Democratic Party write me personal emails, some of them on a daily basis: Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, Al Franken, Wendy Davis … the list seems to go on forever.

Wyoming Campaign Finance
Kerry Drake

As you can imagine, it’s a pretty heady feeling, knowing that these important people take their time to correspond with me. But they never want to shoot the breeze about how the political winds in Wyoming are stirring. In fact, they don’t seem to care if I ever write to them about anything, because all they want me to do is click the “donate” button on my computer screen.

Of course, I’m not alone; millions of these form fundraising emails go out every day to people under the names of the party’s elite, as well as senior officials of organizations like the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee. They started out fairly friendly several months ago, but as the mid-term election draws closer, the letters are sounding more shrill and panicky.

“Mitch McConnell is threatening the president with another government shutdown. It’s all absolutely outrageous,” wrote Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz. “And if Republicans win complete control of Congress in November, it will get exponentially worse.”

I assume Republicans get the same type of correspondence from their top politicians. Since I voted in the GOP primary last month, I’ll probably find out soon enough as my email address starts to pop up on their lists, too.

Most of the solicitations I’ve received lately spotlight McConnell, the U.S. senator from Kentucky who would become the Senate majority leader if Republicans take over the upper chamber, too. Other popular boogeymen are the billionaire right-wing Koch brothers, Charles and David, and infamous GOP strategist Karl Rove, who was known as “Bush’s Brain” when he was in W.’s White House.

As a progressive voter, I agree with Schultz: Things will quickly go to hell in this country if these guys prevail. There’s nothing I’d like to see more than for Allison Grimes to beat McConnell in Kentucky, preserving the Democrats’ Senate majority and keeping it from joining the GOP do-nothing House in shoving permanent gridlock down our throats.

If I could, I’d give my entire paycheck to see Wendy Davis become governor of Texas, or for Scott Walker to be bounced out of the governor’s office in Wisconsin. But I can’t afford to, and I believe in using the limited funds I have to support Wyoming candidates. That’s the advice I would give to all Wyoming voters, regardless of their party, because your donations to local politicians you support and believe in could actually have an impact on races.

I have two major pet peeves with the upcoming election. The first is the national Democrats’ inability to tell a consistent message. I have received emails minutes apart from the party’s supporters, telling me diametrically opposed reasons why my money is desperately needed.

One will contend that McConnell is hopping mad because Democrats have donated so much money to defeat him, his seat is in real jeopardy. Another will say McConnell is downright gleeful because Democrats aren’t donating enough to Grimes, and if the campaign doesn’t reach its goal this week, the apocalypse is near and we’re all screwed.

Well, which is it? My world doesn’t turn on whether Mitch McConnell is happy or sad, but can’t someone give us an accurate look at how this race is going? Does the party really think it can keep playing this shell game, in which our collective optimism gets a big boost because we’re so close to keeping control of the Senate, but we should also be totally distraught because things aren’t going better?

What were initially friendly, almost folksy appeals for money have degenerated into accusations that our party’s leaders are personally disappointed in me because I haven’t been cooperating with their game plan. Here’s a recent one from the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee: “Kerry, we saw you haven’t given to our Paint the South Blue program yet — will you? All gifts will be matched.”

That was followed by a missive titled “Painful Loss” from Harry Reid: “I’m told you haven’t pitched in to the Paint the South Blue program yet. Will you? We’re launching a single day triple match until midnight.”

I feel like I’m on Santa’s naughty list. I hate to think that somewhere in the Capitol, Reid is telling his colleagues, “If only we could pry some money from that cheap guy in Wyoming, we could win this thing.”

Here’s my second, much bigger pet peeve: I don’t think my party would sound as desperate for donations if it hadn’t been for the Supreme Court’s ridiculous ruling in Citizens United that money equals free speech, corporations are people, and they should have unlimited power to buy elections. The wealthy have always had an advantage in being able to pay lobbyists for special access to politicians, but now a few billionaires can control who gets elected.

Why should the Koch brothers be able to spend an obscene amount of money pushing their far-right agenda while literally shutting the rest of us out of the picture? We have to change things, and get big money out of politics before the public’s ability to effectively participate in the democratic process is completely eliminated.

Oddly enough, there’s a way to get involved in the fight against Citizens United that is also a fundraising campaign, only this time it’s to back a vital cause, not a candidate.

I always open up email from Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who is a champion of progressive causes. Whenever I ask Wyoming Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso to consider changing their minds on extremist GOP stances they’ve taken, all I get back are letters that thank me for my input and ignore everything I’ve said. So I’ve made Sanders my honorary senator, and trust him to represent my interests.

(Before the comments section fills up with calls for me to move to Vermont where I can associate with my own kind, let me note that I love Wyoming. It’s my home and I’m not going anywhere.)

Sanders is promoting support for a MoveOn campaign to get the Senate to pass Joint Resolution 19, which is scheduled for a Sept. 8 vote. It would encourage the overturn of Citizens United, and already has 50 co-sponsors.

“Let’s put the Koch brothers on notice that democracy is not — and never will be — for sale. … [We’ll] go after every senator conspicuously absent from the co-sponsor list, especially key Republicans,” Sanders wrote.

That’s the kind of national campaign that is definitely worth donating to, because it’s one where people’s small donations might actually help counter the millions spent on candidates who, in Sanders’ words, “are hell-bent on twisting our nation to match the interests of the elite and ultraconservative.”

Senator, if my few dollars might help end big-money control, count me in.

— Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake is a contributor to WyoHistory.org. He also moderates the WyPols blog.

— Columns are the signed perspective of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WyoFile’s staff, board of directors or its supporters. WyoFile welcomes guest columns and op-ed pieces from all points of view. If you’d like to write a guest column for WyoFile, please contact WyoFile editor-in-chief Dustin Bleizeffer at dustin@wyofile.com.

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Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

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  1. While the sheer volume of money in politics is dangerous enough to the integrity of our democracy, the use of untraceable “dark money” through the 501(c)(4) loophole is arguably more dangerous.

    A 501(c)(4) group (so named after its location in the tax code) is a nonprofit organization that is intended to exist to “promote the social welfare”. These organizations are classified as non-political, and their donor lists are shielded from disclosure to the government. Originally, this tax status was created to allow nonprofit organizations which work towards helping improve the social welfare and educate the population, not become involved in politics; 501(c)(4) groups are allowed to spend money in politics, but the majority of their spending must be used to perform other functions, and they cannot formally endorse political candidates. As there is no concrete definition of “social welfare”, nor are there strong limits on what the groups can focus their “educational” efforts on, this tax status has created an ideal haven for political interest groups.

  2. Louse and Cecil- please enlighten me where I can find the mother lode of verifiable attributable info that George Soros is indeed a profligate bankroller of political progressive causes this time around , rivalling the conservative tycoons ? Are you giving the Kochs and Sheldon Adelson a free ticket , in first class? Are you aware that legislation to throw out Citizens United was passed handily in the US Senate by 78-19 on Monday —that means quite a few Republican Senators are also disturbed enough to want full transparency and accountibility restored to all levels of political funding. How could anyone not want that ?

    p.s. Dewdle = DeweyV . I’ve had a Disqus account under that handle for years . WyoFile is now using Disqus as a comment carrier, if you hadn’t noticed

  3. Cecil- you apparently have never heard of ” Dark Money ” . The Koch’s pumped about $ 400 million into the 2012 campaign from the dark side, apart from their reported and traceable donations.

    And by the way , Western Journalism” .com is not exactly the most laudable. You need to cite several sources. Single source attribution from an ideologue does not pass muster.

    I suggest you expand your reading repertoire on this Soros vs. Koch spending comparison by Googling just that : “comparison of Koch brothers and George Soros spending on political activity.” You will have a huge slew of articles to compare. Keep score.

    At the end of it all you will find that the Koch’s outspend Soros by 30-to-1. Their spending has gone thru the astrodome roof since Citizen’s United, and Soros has unilaterally spent less, in protest to CU. The über-rich casino owner and political powerbroker Sheldon Adelson from Las vegas outspent Soros by 5-to-1 in the 2012 election cycle . Adelson backs conservative and far right causes exclusively. The Kochs and Adelson easily outspend the entirety of all liberal and progressive contributors combined by an order of magnitude.

    Wasn’t Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell caught on an open mike in June but only revealed last week, saying ” the Koch brothers are running the Republican party now ” . That’s straight from the horse’s…..uh , mouth.

  4. Might be worth taking a look at how the country just north of us runs its politcal campaign machinery to elect their federal and provincial ( state) office holders.

    Canada has a combination of pubic and private campaign financing , with caps . The public funding is distributed according to proportion of votes. There are five major parties in Canada – Conservative, Liberal, New Democrat but also including the Green and Quebecoix faction, and 11-12 minor parties , all of whom receive public money. Transparency of private donations is mandated… you know where the money comes from and it can be followed. It is much harder to jig the system in Canada. Dark Money …isn’t. Private funding of the federal political parties occurs through political contributions made by individuals, but these contributions are vastly subsidized by public funds disbursed through tax credits. Wow. Canadians look upon the ramifications of Citizens United case here in the USA and just say ” WTF, eh ? ”

    Campaigns are mercifully short. The officeholders do not have to devote most of their time to fund raising, deal making, patronage, and skullduggery during the time they are in office. Instead, they spend their time performing their civic duty and serving their constituents.

    I also recall ( vaguely ) that actual overt campaigning for the House of Commons ( eq: our Congress) in the UK are time limited to the 30 days before the election, and there are no floods of money or blizzards of adverts.

    What a radical notion about how to run a democracy…spend your time in office, not out on the street electioneering.

  5. Kara Linn, well said. Common sense…….something often missing with Mr. Drake.

    I find it interesting Mr. Drake has enough money to support a political campaign, yet continually whines about his lack of funds to pay for his own health care/insurance. Typical liberal, his hand out for government support on one side, his other hand funneling that money to support the liberal democratic agenda – ie, get more people on the government dole and increase the liberal vote.

    The left is laughable with their claims about the funding of the Koch brothers while at the same time choose to ignore the left wing Hollywood supporters, George Soros and many other wealthy liberals. Judy is right on, you can’t poke at the Right while the left has their hand out………

  6. You make good points, Bruce. I was a Republican candidate in the author’s district–the one where he admittedly switched parties to vote in, despite that fact that he refers to the democrat party as “his” party (???). I neither solicited, nor received, any money from those filthy PACs–the pathway for those who have money to avert the campaign contribution limit on individuals of $1000. Instead, I raised over $3400 from individuals the old fashioned way–financing the rest by myself. My opponent, on the other hand, raised only a little over $2000 from individuals (many of them cronies who sit with him in the legislature) while he gladly received the lion’s portion of his funding (about $10,000) from PACs. Yet, I would be shocked if I were to find out that the author of this article voted for me rather than for my opponent. (If I do find out that he voted for me, I will gladly and profusely apologize for what I’m about to say and be his lawn mower, shoe shiner, car washer, etc. for the next 12 months.) I’m the person who has a dogged belief in the individual, the little guy, albeit I have conservative values that favor things like free market capitalism and Constitutional freedoms (you know, things like a free press). Again, I’m the one who truly believes in standing up for the little guy, the individual. My opponent is the insider, the member of the good ole boys club, and the one who drank his fill from the trough of the monied interests (meager as it turns out to be in a little state like WY). Yet, this author who claims to want a more fair game, I’m pretty sure, probably voted for my opponent. Hmmmm. It’s been my experience that the press believes in slanting the message during elections to favor their “progressive” choices with as much hypocrisy as they say they decry campaign donations. Turns out the degree to which they are incensed is directly related to whether the candidates they favor are elected. If they were really in favor of truth and fairness, they wouldn’t try to create a position on candidate prior to making a good faith effort to learn about and actually report the views of those candidates to the public. Money is power, but so is information. What passes for journalism these days is the equivalent, in many cases, to the brashest of abuses of monetary influence. Oh, and before I decide whether to respond to the email campaign from WyoFile asking for funding, I have a lot more back “issues” of their reporting to review for objectivity and balance before I decide. If this article is any indication of what they stand for, I will be looking elsewhere. I hope it isn’t. I’m really hungry for some real news and some balance and objectivity.

  7. Sorry, but I have to respectfully disagree with Kerry, and Bernie Sanders, on this one. The supreme court equated money with free speech decades ago, not just in the Citizens United decision. Citizens United expanded that right to additional parties. I don’t think congress can overturn the decision, it’s an interpretation of the first amendment. What’s the alternative? Congress deciding donation limits according to whose in power at that time? Is that preferable? Is there going to be a Joint Resolution restricting the second amendment next? In addition, blaming the rich is a specious argument. The most Democratic county in Wyoming is Teton, the only place in the state where “summer” is a verb.

  8. Judy- can you please expand on your comment about the political money contributions by George Soros, and tell us all how much he’s given to “progressive-liberal” causes and campaigns, compared to one or both Koch brothers and their conservative-libertarian beneficiaries ? Attribution , please.

    I already know the answer and the ratio of Koch: Soros in political dollars. I just want to know if you know…. I’ll wait a couple days before publishing it if you don’t tally up.

  9. Well, here is a thought…you tell George Soros to take HIS money out of progressive-liberal campaigns and I’ll consider asking the Koch brothers to takr THEIR money out off conservative-republican campaigns. Deal? Oh, by the way I am in receipt of many of those same emails that you get. I didn’t even have to switch parties at the primary election; I just signed up!